One of the most important things that I discovered in motherhood was my own mother. I write about my relationship with her in my book, A Double Life, Discovering Motherhood. My mother and I have always been close, and she was a terrific mother: attentive, disciplined, supportive of my pursuits. She pursued her education as an adult and encouraged me and my siblings to pursue our own. But for all her admirable qualities, our relationship was, of course, not perfect. We often butted heads, as so many mothers and daughters do, as I tried to define my life and myself separate from the one person who was arguably the most important my life. As most daughters will testify, there’s something singular about a relationship with a mother.
In my book I write about how our relationship changed dramatically and, seemingly, for good the week that I flew from California to New Jersey for a baby shower hosted by my mother for my east coast friends and family. In the chapter detailing the events of this week I write:
My mother and I had always been close, but that had not always meant we had gotten along. We are both prone to judgment and argument. We are both fiercely independent. I had an unconventional, rebellious streak that must have kept her awake many nights during my teenage and college years. We are both loathe to admit we are wrong, which can cause trouble not only in real, significant arguments, but over stupid domestic things, like the proper recipe for roast chicken or the facts of a current political scandal, or the particular merits of a new novel. But that week, things changed. Maybe she was finally ready to see me as an adult, my life in full throttle. Or maybe it was me, finally prepared to release my petty arguments and judgments. Or maybe I was so selfishly consumed by the pregnancy that it insulated me from other cares. Regardless—that week we were happy.
From this moment on, our petty arguments and disagreements (okay, coming from me most of the time) largely disappeared. She supported me, but she also let me be. For my own part, I realized that she knew an awful lot about the changes coming my way, and had good practical advice and perspective. I welcomed her support. I saw her as part of my team, even with 3000 miles between us. I knew that our mutual interest was my daughter. My mother became someone who could understand and empathize with me (and also talk some sense into me when I lost all perspective).
Later, after my daughter was born, I became acutely aware of what my mother meant for my daughter. Often, in the middle of the night, I longed for only one thing: to bring my mother and daughter together.
Motherhood made me long for my mother as I had not since I was a child. Nights, after Ella had gone to bed, and I enjoyed long hours without her, my arms often felt empty not just for my daughter, but for my mother. I wanted to hold her and tell her: Now I understand.
Motherhood allowed me to let go of anger, to find gratitude and, most important, a deeper acceptance of my mother. As I lost and found myself in my own maternity, I found my mother, waiting for me, just as she probably always had.